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ARGENTINA | 15-10-2023 21:34

Teary return from Israel for young Argentines

First flight of evacuees, mostly young, returning from Israel arrives at Ezeiza International Airport.

A first flight of mostly young Argentines returning from Israel arrived in Buenos Aires last Sunday, met by hugs, tears and a roar of applause from waiting relatives.

Dozens of families received their loved ones with huge embraces and applause as emotional scenes took over the terminal.

More than one returnee told of their fear that they might be forced to stay longer in the country, following the bloody attacks launched by Hamas fighters.

An Aerolíneas Argentinas plane, on a flight from Rome, flew into Ezeiza International Airport on the outskirts of the capital. It was part of "Operation Safe Return," organised by the Foreign Ministry to repatriate Argentine citizens or binationals from Israel.

"There were tense days of uncertainty. We lived with a lot of fear," said Hernán Fray as he waited for the arrival of his 15-year-old daughter Karen.

"We came to pick her up so that she could receive all this love that we’ve been trying to transmit to her remotely with technology," he added.

"I'm going to hug them and thank God that they are here and are well. I'm going to pray that what is happening in Israel ends soon because they don't deserve this situation," said Claudio Peña, who had two of his children in Israel.

The chartered flight carried 246 passengers, most of them high school students. Earlier in the week, they’d been flown from Tel Aviv to Rome on Air Force planes. With 1,500 Argentines and dual nationals asking to leave, more flights will follow.

But several of the young people were frustrated at having to leave Israel so suddenly, and some said they hope to return as soon as possible. 

When they arrived in the Ezeiza Airport VIP hall – decorated with "Welcome" signs and a big light-blue-and-white Argentine flag – several young people ran into the open arms of their parents, many with tears in their eyes. 

Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero was among the state officials on hand to welcome the group.

The group had been staying far from the Gaza border area where Hamas militants massacred hundreds of people, and so felt they were not personally in danger. But they did experience fear, some said.

"I feel joy, happiness, excitement. We came with some expectations and we had others. Thank God we were lucky that nothing happened to us. We were very well looked after. We did activities to distract ourselves," said said 15-year-old Coni, who did not give her last name

"The sirens sounded and twice we had to go into the shelters," she said, as her father clung to her.  "We were just afraid we would have to stay there for days."

But now, she added, "we're feeling nothing but happiness."

"We have been very anxious," said Guillermo Bagaci. "My daughter is very young, she is only 14. Perhaps she was only half aware of what was happening. I feel a sense of relief.

Argentina has a Jewish community of 250,000, the largest in Latin America.

That community experienced terrorism in 1994 when a bombing at the AMIA Jewish community centre claimed 85 lives, and in 1992 when an attack at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29.

by Martín Raschinsky, AFP

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